Archive for the ‘Kicking Breast Cancer’s Ass’ Category

Let Go of My Ego

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

This blog is dedicated to my friend Sally O’Malley Whitten Lara. 

As a long time friend of my mother’s, Sally has always been a part of my life since I can remember.  Mazatlan, carpools, St. Francis, weddings and breast cancer, she has been there.  Not only do we share a similar hairdo, as a breast cancer survivor herself, she has been an inspiration, sending me encouraging cards and thoughtful gifts throughout my own battle, lifting my spirits when I was low, giving me hope and strength to keep going. 

Sally, now facing cancer again, is the pure personification of the archetypal figure and stock character of the gorgeous wise woman in which I dedicate this blog. 

This is for you Sally!

Sally in bright orange front right

The other night, while sitting around the dinner table discussing the merits of long hair vs. short hair, Maggie said, “Mom, whenever a guy used to flirt with you, I would give him the evil eye and he would look away.  I don’t have to do that anymore, because they don’t look anymore.” 

Ouch.  That hurt. 

But, Maggie is right.  Men don’t look at me like they used to, unless they are over 50 or European.  It seems I am bit of a conundrum to them these days.

But, it is not true of women.  Women of all ages and nationalities seem to love me, or shall I say love my hair.  They stop me in the grocery store, on hiking trails, at school, and at coffee houses, to tell me, “I love your hair,” or “You are so brave, I have always wanted to wear my hair short, but I am too afraid.”  

Just the other day while getting a pedicure, the Vietnamese women asked me, “Are you a model?”  Then, at Mother’s Market, a woman asked, “Who does your hair?”  She was shocked to find out that I do it myself.  I use my husband’s clippers, No #3 on the sides and #8 on top. 

And, to top it all off, a very brazen lesbian at the International Orange Festival stopped me to compliment my short cut.  After we chatted a bit, I told her that I had breast cancer.  She then asked, “Can I give you a hug.” 

“Of course,” I replied.  She gave me a very big long hug.  In fact, she wouldn’t let go.

I love my hair, it’s empowering.  And, I love that so many women love my hair.  That’s empowering as well.  Not only do I like the way it looks and how it makes me feel, my short silver strands represent the new me, the reinvented me, the Deanne after cancer me, rising from the rubble. 

Me with my short silver cut

 

Raundi, Deanne, Savanah and coconuts at Doheny Days

But, there are moments, I confess, that I miss my long golden brown locks.  Because with it, came a glance from a handsome young guy in the car next to me, a door being opened for me or a flirtatious “hello.”  Not only did it make me feel good, it fed that ego of mine.  And, I admit, I have a big ego. 

Me, before cancer with long golden brown locks.

But, today, I have learned that it is more important to feed my soul than my ego, accept me for me and wear my natural silver hair with pride. 

“There is a difference between fleeting ego happiness and souls long term contentment…Know the difference and you will find your peace.”…Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Women seem to know this about me, as if I am now a part of some sisterhood, especially the older generation.  These women, eccentric and peculiar, odd but familiar, their bodies tattered but their souls pure.  They are our mothers and grandmothers, our old wives, worn but wise.  With their hips wide, stretched from giving life, breasts famished from nourishing new generations, and hands withered from both cleaning and caressing, they let go of their ego a long time ago.  They are absolute unconditional soul and seem to have found some resemblance of peace.    

It seems Harold was on to something when he fell in love with Maude.

We can learn much from this women archetype.  They are the crones, the stock character, the wise woman of myths and fairytales.  In the old myths, these women represented wisdom, nourishment and life.  Unfortunately, our modern fairytales have warped their image into the power hungry queen or decrepit old woman.  With warts on their noses, cursing us with deadly apples and candy houses, we have learned to be afraid and avoid them. 

This is not a surprise, of course, since our modern culture worships youth, beauty and skinny jeans.  We love the Aphrodite’s of the world.  It is almost an addiction, defining ourselves based on our looks rather than our talents.  As Germaine Greer says in her book, The Whole Woman, “Every woman knows that, regardless of all her other achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful.”

I could grow my hair out.  I could color it.  But, I won’t.  Not now any way.  I would be saying grace to the wrong goddess.  No, I will keep my silver strands, avoid the harsh chemicals and learn to let go of my ego.  I will not deny Hera, the strong and wise queen. 

These women, these beautiful wise women, they know something that we don’t (or we are just tapping into).  Whether they went through the pains and joys of life or sat back and watched, they have much to bring to the table besides roast beef, mashed potatoes and apple pie.  We just need to listen.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog called “44 Going on 16.”  Today, it would be entitled “46 Going on 65” as I learn the ways of the unconventional shrewd crone.

So, not only is this blog about my continued work in transforming “me” from an ego driven life to soul driven.  It is dedicated to the Aunt Mildred’s, Grandma Mac’s and Sally O’Malley Whitten Lara’s of the world.  It is in honor of my mother and yours.  It is in celebration of the old crones, the archetypal dangerous old woman, the Hera’s and the Maude’s.  It is to pay homage to every laugh line, age mark and gray hair.  It is to show respect for every stretch mark, cesarean scar and varicose vein.  It is to understand every mistake, every sacrifice and every human being brought to life by these radiant women!  I am in awe of you as I strive to become more like you!  Thank you!

A Sneak Peek

Thursday, July 19th, 2012
The Browns by Brian Brooks

Finally settled into our new home, doctor’s bills paid, and 18 months cancer free, I now have more time for me.  This is a bit of a ridiculous statement actually.  Maybe I should re-phrase that, I sort of have more time for me.  I still have three kids, four cats, a snake, ten Koi and one husband to look after, but I will take the cats and the snake and the kids over cancer any day.

So, what do I plan to do with my time?  I am writing an anthology, a collection of essays about my adventures in breast cancer that I plan to get published. 

Writing about cancer is genuinely healing for me as I sift through the sands of time, making sense of these last couple of years.  It also gives me a chance to give back and help others that may be going through the same thing. 

But, like everything in my life, I don’t want to do this alone.  I need all of you.  Along with my essays, the anthology will include a compilation of prose, poems and art by any of you creative inspiring writers and artists out there that would like to be a part of this project.  So, calling all artists, writers, poets, and photographers, if you are interested in submitting a piece, please let me know. 

My intent is for each essay, poem, etc. to stand on its own, but together as a collection, tell my story and the story of the other 200,000 women that are battling breast cancer each year, in the United States alone.  I hope to fill the pages with truth, humor, compassion and sometimes shock, giving my readers a better understanding of what breast cancer is really like.  What it actually feels like to have your breast cut off, to intentionally put poison into your veins, to shave your head and tell your kiddos, husband and parents that you have cancer.  No holding back people! 

As I get close to a finish date, I will send out more details.  In the meanwhile, I am excited to give you a sample peak of one of my pieces to get your creative wheels rolling. 

Happy reading!

Lights, Camera, Action!

 “When other women have this same operation, it doesn’t make any headlines”…Betty Ford.

In the wake of stealing second base, nursing babies, and push up bras, I still feel a deep bond with my breast, even though it tried to kill me.  About to have it cut from my body, the nurse wheeled me through the cold blank halls and gray walls of the hospital into the operating room.  I placed my left hand across my chest as if pledging allegiance, and said my goodbyes.

The room was intimidating.  The only splash of color was blue scrubs.  Ominous machines, computer monitors, and aseptic surgical instruments were strategically placed around the operating table.  Huge fluorescent lights hung from above like angels watching over me. 

The tranquilizing effect of the sedative began to set in as two male nurses picked me up and transferred me to the operating table.  I could not help but wonder if I just displayed my bear ass to everyone in the room.  It is not a time to be modest, I thought to myself, when I have much bigger issues. 

As I lay waiting, watching the doctors and nurses prepare for a modified radical mastectomy, I glanced at the tools, reminding me of silverware placed meticulously besides dinner plates at a five star restaurant.  I observed the bright white lines going in rhythm to my heart, and the pressure gages moving up and down to my blood flow. Listening to the beeps, clatter, and talk between the staff, I felt strangely calm amid such a production. 

And then my imagination went amuck.  I pictured my doctor removing the wrong breast, saw him slip, and cut my jugular while making the incision.  I imagined an ordinary household vacuum, extension attached, sucking up all the cancerous fatty tissue while my nipple sat in a jar of formaldehyde.  I envisioned both my breast and lymph nodes being poked and tested, making sure they got all the cancer, and then casually thrown out with other body parts in the hospital incinerator.  I shivered. 

A nurse, thinking I was cold, placed a warm blanket on top of me.  It felt as if it had come straight from the dryer.  She carefully folded in the sides making special care to cover my feet, reminding me of my mom tucking me into bed when I was a little.  I appreciated the distraction from my spiraling thoughts. 

A few minutes later, the anesthesiologist sat down next to me, put his hand on mine, and said, “It’s time.  Are you ready?” 

“Are you ever ready for something like this?”  I asked. 

He was quite chatty as he prepared a potent cocktail for me, sharing a little bit about the process and his self.  Making sure that I had nothing in my stomach, not even water, to avoid drowning in my own fluids during surgery, he asked, “When is the last time you ate?  “Dinner time, last night,” I told him.  “Good girl.”  He then inquired, “So, what do you do Deanne?” 

Slurring my words a bit, and still freaked out by the drowning thing, I answered, “I am the lead singer in a rock band.”  I explained how four years ago, six of us forty something suburban housewives decided to start our own band, even though not one of us could play an instrument.  I told him how we bought guitars and a bass and replaced the couch and coffee table in the living room with drums, amps and a PA system.  “I leave the dishes in the sink and the laundry behind,” I continued, “to steal a few precious moments away from my kids, husband, “should’s and ought to’s.”  “Honestly, nothing compares to singing with my girlfriends on stage.  It is where I should be.” I finished. 

Why did I choose to tell the anesthesiologist, a complete stranger, all about my band instead of the other thousand things I do each day as a mother of three like cooking, cleaning, driving and parenting?  Probably because lying on an operating table, completely naked under a flimsy gown and blankets, with a hair net and no makeup, about to have my breast cut from my body, makes you feel a bit vulnerable; invisible. 

Maybe it was for good measure, or maybe it was the drugs but apparently, during our conversation, I also led him to believe I was famous. 

In actuality, my breasts are more famous than me.  Ever since I found the lump, they have been in the public spotlight, the leading ladies; my very own pair of Lady’s Gaga’s.  Mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI’s, and PET scans invade my days like celebrity stalking paparazzi while cold stethoscopes, hands and doctors probe like inquiring fans.  Needles poke, nurses jab, and I bleed.  It is a high price to pay for fame. 

Famous or not, it does not matter, I simply wanted him to know, I am more than my breast cancer. 

With a reassuring voice the doctor said, “I am going to give you a bit of oxygen, it might make you sleepy.”  I did not have time to respond, as he placed a clear mask over my mouth and nose.  About to perform in my biggest show yet, I took a deep breath.  It’s time to sing, girl.

Lights, camera, action!

From Matter to Substance

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

 “The Lord said, if you build me a tree house, I’ll see you never run out of material.”…Horace Burgess

"Near Crossville, Tennessee stands the world's largest treehouse. Horace Burgess, a local landscape architect, began building the structure in 1994 around an 80 foot high oak tree that was 12 feet around at the base, as well as a few other nearby trees. The treehouse itself is 97 feet high and has 11 stories!" KOS

 

I have been racking my brain trying to decide what to write about for this blog.  It’s not that I don’t have enough material, quite the contrary.  Like my medical bills, I have more than I want.  

For example, I was thinking of writing a blog about how I recently went off Tamoxifin.  Not only does it cause uterine cancer, it is on the known carcinogen list by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, along with Arsenic, Benzene, Formaldehyde, plutonium, alcohol and salted fish, Chinese style. 

I could also write about how I found a study that debunks “The Secret.”  Negative thoughts are actually good for you, the more extreme, the better.  They release “natural killer cells” that attack and kill unwanted intruders such as cancer.  So go ahead people, get mad!  Do not repress those emotions.  Blocked Qi (pronounced chee), or stagnated energy only increases your likely hood of getting breast cancer.

I could write a blog about how I worry my breast cancer will come back and that it will spread to my bones or brain.  I sometimes wonder if a headache is simply because I am dehydrated or is it because the cancer has found its way to my cerebral cortex.  Maybe my sore elbow is actually cancer eating away at my humerus, not from knocking it on the counter the other day.  And, if it spreads before I finish raising my kiddos, who will get them to school, basketball, poetry classes, and horseback riding lessons?  Who will cook dinner for them and help them to decide on what classes to take?  Who will stay up late at night with them watching movies or discussing the absurdity of the so called American Dream?  Who will hug them when their girlfriend breaks up with them? 

Or, what if I write about how everything will eventually catch up with you at one point in your life or another.  You can run but you sure can’t hide.  Like the grim reaper, the bill collectors will find you, those cancer cells will multiply and that fat will accumulate if you keep eating Twinkies. 

I could write about how cancer changed me.  It has been a turning point in my life.  I am truly not the same person I was before my diagnosis.  And, it has taken a physical toll on me as well. My feet hurt from neuropathy and a tongue on my left nipple feels like razorblades.  Not sure if it is better than not feeling anything at all; which is the case of my right nipple.  I have also gained my weight back to pre-cancer days.  My little muffin top is back.  I either need to head over to Buckle and shop for some new jeans or stop stuffing my emotions with late night handfuls of dry peanut butter puff cereal straight from the box.

Truly, I have enough material for ten blogs. 

It would be fun to write about The Hunger Games; a dystopian society, heroines and far out fashion.  And, I admit it.  I am a big fan of Katniss.  Or, I could tell you about the next book our mom’s book group is reading, if you haven’t already read it yourself, “50 Shades of Gray,” and how Gray is the Marqui de Sade reincarnated and how anyone can buy porn at Ralphs or Costco.  And, did you know that dead Koi are too big to flush down the toilet but make a great fertilizer, and Buck, decked out in his cowboy hat and chaps is my new hero?  You can stream him from Netflix.  English riding is much harder than it looks and feeding a stray cat is not a good idea.  By the way, make sure to double check the numbers on your clippers before clipping.  Three is not the new eight.  And, never ever ever put dark wood floors in your house if you own three cats with long light hair, use a cucumber instead of a pestle to juice, or puree raw chocolate avocado pudding in a blender without the lid securely fastened.  I’m just saying. 

One last thing, I would like to write about how complete strangers, all women, come up to me at the grocery store, post office, book store, everywhere every day to tell me how much they love my hair and wish they were brave enough to wear their hair like mine.  I don’t think the majority of men like my hair, however, except my husband.  They rarely flirt with me these days unless they are extremely secure in their masculinity, over the age of 70 or hoping to be invited to girl on girl.  Oh, Oh, two more things than I promise I am done.  I am constantly mistaking the wire in my nose from my nose piercing as a booger and I truly hope the Mayan calendar is wrong.  The Hobbit comes out in theatres that day and I don’t want to miss it.  

So, see, like Horace Burgess, I am never lacking in material.  I have plenty to write about, worry about, complain about and laugh about; my life is a smorgasbord of crazy, interesting, profound and the ridiculous.  

I guess that’s a good thing for a writer.  It gives you a lot of material.  And, with material come lessons.  And, with lessons comes growth.  And growth hurts.  In other words, from matter to substance.

My friend Raundi and I made a toast on New Year’s Eve this year. “To no more growth,” we cheered, as the fireworks boomed in the background and we clanked champagne glasses.   But, after these last six months, apparently the universe has other plans for us.  At least, I hope there is a plan and that all these lessons are not in vain.  In all honesty, I was hoping for something kinda big, like the Tree House.  You know, that A-ha moment when a million light bulbs brighter than the sun flash before your eyes, lighting your way, out of the dark and into true enlightenment.  It’s the only way I can make sense of all of this.  But whether there is a huge a-ha moment or many little a-ha moments, one thing is for sure, I will never run out of material for my blog.  Damn!

 

Lump: The Attempted Assassination by Her Right Breast by Riley Brown

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

My family’s new normal: No cancer. A year ago this was not the case.  Let me tell you, it has been one hell of a roller coaster ride. It feels glorious to be getting off.  I will never forget the night my family boarded, about to be taken on the ride of our lives.

A standard night at the Brown’s house: Dinner together finished an hour ago.  Everybody has dispersed. My brother and I are in the garage playing video games (as usual) when my mother called all of us into the living room. This was pretty typical of her when she wanted us to help clean up a mess – one that I probably contributed to.  She would lecture, we would clean, and then all of us would watch Family Guy together, filling the room with inappropriate discussion and laughter.

But tonight the laughter was gone. There was no color; the walls turned gray and bleak like an old soviet government building. My mom’s breast took center stage.

 “I found a lump in my breast,” she said.  

Those words penetrated the air and created a silence I had never heard before, so loud I could hardly breathe. I became transfixed on the green coffee table and rug (they had been in our living room for years, maybe I stared for a sense of comfort and familiarity) and thought to myself over and over again “please be benign, please.”

There is nothing else I remember from that day:  not what we had for dinner, not the weather conditions, nor if I had to go into work.  Nothing else held nearly the same importance or urgency as my mom and her well being. It cannot be cancer.  We could not lose her.

The next week, my mom got the results of her biopsy.  Sitting in the living room, “I know my mom is cancer free, there is no way she could have cancer,” was on repeat in my head.

I do not remember my mom’s exact words, but whatever she had said, screamed out loud and clear, “I have cancer!”

There was that damned green table again.

I tried to brush her news off like a stupid fly that won’t leave you alone. The initial indifference made me wonder, like my brother Casey, if I too am a sociopath. So astonishingly confused; I felt wronged by some mysterious power much greater than myself.

I looked at my family. Seeing them relieves me. It looks like they are feeling the same as me.  I must not be a sociopath. That’s good.

The next day I can tell my mom is stressed. She hides it as convincingly as actors on the Disney Channel.

One evening, I heard glass crashing in the kitchen.  I ran in and she was crying. The tears told me everything.  Ignoring the broken glass I wrapped my arms around her, letting her know I’ll be there through all of this (I am like a cat about physical contact. Only receiving when I want to, never giving except on rare occasions). An – infrequently spoken by me – “I love you” slipped from my lips. I know she is going to need all the love and support I can give.

My mom has never really been one to follow rules.  That two chord Judas Priest song just came to mind, “Breakn the law, breakn the law.” You know, she will just ignore the directions and figure out how to do it herself.  This tendency of hers caused her to somewhat distrust the doctors. Hours were spent reading and gathering all the data possible to make a well informed decision about how to combat the assassin that has claimed many, Breast Cancer.

All this stagnant waiting time between the diagnosis and treatment was really worrying me. I was stressed. Whether I knew it at the time I do not know, but I do now.

Initially, she decided to try a natural route. She had always eaten fairly healthy and eating well has always interested her. But she went crazy.  I am talking macrobiotics, all organic, cancer healing diet.  Macro requires a ton of cooking though, so it ended up too time consuming for her busy lifestyle.

After some time my mom finally put herself into her doctor’s hands. Chemo it was; an entire year was needed to combat the assassin. It was her full time job.  The problem with chemo is there is major collateral damage. Her nerves and organs would be harmed. Her hair would fall out. She would be bed ridden for days after each dose. 

Seeing my mom stuck in bed, well, I never thought I ever would. She hates to lie in bed all day.  Fresh air, exercise, her band, and taxi service for my siblings would all have to come to an end; but somehow, she micro-managed a lot of it from her bed.  It was painful to see her so sick and weak. She hated it, I hated it. We all wanted to see her get better.

A few weeks after chemo began her room turned pink from balloons, ribbons, mugs, cards, and blankets. Anything with a pink ribbon – she wanted to get a tattoo of it behind her ear, now she can’t stand the sight of them – was dispersed throughout her bedroom.

My brother and I began wearing those “I love boobies” bracelets. It was interesting to see people’s reaction to them. Most just thought it was a “high school thing.” Like this guy who said mockingly “of course you’re wearing one of those.” I wanted to tell him, “don’t judge me man, you have no idea.”

One year ago today she had a mastectomy.  We visited her in the hospital.  I cannot stand hospitals.  Whatever that smell is makes me sick, and those off white walls are repulsive. I want to leave from the moment I arrive, but I had to see my mom.

It was brutal to see her in the hospital all bandaged up. She was drifting in and out of sleep and the drugs had her so sedated she could hardly talk. Thank god the surgery had gone well.

I think the surgery; just the idea of surgery had us more on edge than we realized.  My mom’s nervousness, along with all her other moods, radiated outward; we all felt it.  She was obviously incredibly stressed about cutting out the thing that tried to kill her.  So was the rest of the family.  She felt it most though.

Incredibly, through this entire campaign, my mom stayed strong and could still complete all her motherly duties.  What an amazing woman. If wonder woman existed, it would be her.

She is now cancer free.  I remember once not too long ago, while I was at work, a woman came in I chat with sometimes. She said I was glowing.  She was right.  I was so happy for my family to be rid of the assassin that has claimed millions.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

It’s official.  After years of bull shit, more shit and even bat guano piling higher and deeper, I am awarding myself an official Piled higher and Deeper Degree, which I refer to as a PhD from The University of Life.  It wasn’t easy but like those before me have stated, “If getting a PhD is easy, then everybody would have one!” 

I am now officially eligible to practice the art of life after serious understanding and preparation in the field of grief, loss, betrayal, doubt, guilt, loneliness, obsessions, addictions, anger, fear, angst and anxiety.  Each of these fields in suffering is required curriculum to achieve a rich and meaningful life.  I am proud to say that I passed each class, some with flying colors, some in the darkest of grays, but I passed nonetheless.

It was a huge life changing commitment!

But I did it.  I obtained way over the minimum amount of credit hours required in the field of suffering, as anyone diagnosed with cancer or faced with job loss or a mid-life crisis knows.  I researched extensively, read every self help, “How to”, psycho-babble text and instructional manual and searched through archive after archive, sometimes unveiling truths in the darkest of places.  I attended classes, went to study groups, joined book groups and re-evaluated the so called right food groups.  I recorded more lab hours than sleep, interned for the wise and not so wise, pulled all-nighters, pulled strings and pulled my hair out trying to make sense of the absurd, illogical, and bizarre always making sure to take good notes along the way.  And, last but not least, I published my findings.         

I admit that I have had a few setbacks; a few repeated lessons before it finally sank in.  I also confess to times when I was lured towards electives and extracurricular activities in search of fun, escape and instant gratification. But those classes were always fleeting, elusive and full.  I suppose therein lies the attraction.  The core classes required for my PhD, the classes I tried to avoid like the plague but always seem to have space, demanded not only my blood, sweat and tears but my soul.   It is not easy taking classes in suffering voluntarily.  

But, I did not give up even when funds were tight and I went hungry living off of chocolate, cheap beer, other people and hope.  I got back on course, sometimes kicking and screaming, like Dante, lost at mid-life, who in the end found his way out of the dark wood, a clutch win.   

Eventually, I finished my dissertation and defended it before a panel of experts; teachers, advisors, mentors, friends, my children, my family, my husband, the neighbors and community.  I argued with fierce determination and demonstrated my capacity to hang on when one feels there is nothing left to hang on to, to forgive when all seems unforgivable, to be accountable when I prefer not to count, to change when change seems impossible and to move on when I don’t feel like moving.   After intense scrutiny, and examination, I showed mastery, confidence, and preparation addressing and re-addressing any and all issues, problems, questions and concerns thoroughly convincing both the experts and myself that I am worthy of this degree. 

It took a lot of guts facing the panel of experts and myself but “no guts, no glory.”  And, the glory is not mine alone it is for all the people that are a part of me.    

I know that getting my degree does not promise meaning or an end.  It is not a degree of entitlement.  There are no guarantees.  But it is a rite of passage of sort, an investment in my future.  It makes me better equipped as I continue my journey.  Maybe I can even pass-on the wisdom, knowledge and experience I have gained to others.

By the way, if you have not already earned your PhD, don’t worry, you will.  No one gets through the University of Life without it.  And a word to the wise, please do not fall for the quick accredited life degree scams you find on-line.  There is only one way to earn a real PhD from the University of Life; you must enroll.  There are no short-cuts, schemes or quick relief strategies.   

Class begins now…

Disclaimer:  PhD’s vary considerably based on time, location and experiences.  No two degrees are a-like, chocolate is not a cure-all and cheap beer can do more harm than good.

Guano Hit the Fan

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

“Where there is much light, the shadow is deep.”  … - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wherever you go, there you are.”  …Unknown

For the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer our family took a vacation.  We packed our bags, lubed the car and trekked across the desert to Arizona; our first stop, Phoenix to visit the family for the holidays.  After lots of Christmas cookies, old friends, music jam sessions and a visit from Santa, we packed up our gifts, said our goodbyes and headed two hours south to Tucson. Since Riley and Casey are soon to be university bound, we wanted to show them our alma mater, The Universtiy of Arizona, and the place Kevin and I first met 26 years ago. 

We had a blast.  I not only reconnected with my family, I reconnected to the desert and to my core.  Tucson is truly a spiritual place.

We saw two hundred year old giants in Saguaro National Park, met mountain lions and javalina, went horseback riding with a real cowboy, re-lived the shootout at the OK corral, hung out by the pool with fair skinned snowbirds, ate pollo smothered in Mole and went spelunking at Kartchner Caverns, an absolutely stunning limestone cave hidden in the desert.

  

Formed by 85,000 years of dripping water, the cave is one of the wonders of the world with its incredible calcite formations; stalagmites and stalactites, some reaching from the floor to the ceiling.  It is also home to hundreds of bats.  And where there are bats, there is guano, lots of guano.  That is bat shit in lay men terms.

There is no escaping guano.  Even in the most wondrous of places. 

But, where there is guano, there is life; rich, abundant life.  Fungi and bacteria, along with other life forms like cave crickets and gross little white blind bugs thrive in these caves all because of this organic material.  It is essential for growth, development and expansion; in other words, without guano, no ugly blind bugs, without shit, no life.

We have all experienced our fair share of shit in our lives.  It will come and go like the monsoons of Arizona.  And, just when there is a clearing and all is good, shit happens again.  We are all living proof of this life cycle.

The week before Christmas, guano hit the fan in the Brown household, a full out monsoon.  I had to go in for an emergency mini D and C after days of non-stop bleeding and a biopsy to boot to make sure I did not have uterine cancer (Uterine cancer is one of the side effects of Tomaxifin), all while getting ready to go out of town for Christmas while Kevin was swamped with an 8 million page production.  He slept eight hours in five days.   I think I saw him for four of those hours and he was snoring.   

It was hell week, not unlike the week pledges face at the U of A before achieving full membership in their fraternity or sorority.  But, I did not crawl back into bed.  I did not run off to Mexico with a hot sexy surfer or join some cult where they promised to save my soul.  I did not light up or drown my sorrows in a bottle of vodka.  I admit I thought about it though.  Instead, I faced it head on and persevered.  It wasn’t easy.  I wept and moaned and howled at the moon but I did not give up.     

Many of our addictions and neurosis are our attempts to escape, to run from suffering, to run from ourselves.  But it is in this suffering, this shit that life deals us, this bat guano, that we grow and true meaning comes to light. 

James Hollis, my favorite Jungian psychologist and author writes, “there is no sun-lit meadow, no restful bower of easy sleep; there are rather swamplands of the soul where nature, intends that we live a good part of the journey, and from whence many of the most meaningful moments of our lives will derive.” 

James you are one rad dude, Carl Jung, brilliant.  T.S. Eliot embraced this understanding as well. 

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation

So, don’t run.  Don’t try to escape.  Stay.  Fight.  Howl at the moon if you must.  Do not be afraid to go spelunking into the deep cavernous places of your soul.  It is in these dark places that we meet ourselves.

Deanne meet Deanne.

Welcome Back Girl!

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Friday night, as the sun was setting on the pacific, it was also setting in my heart.  I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  My husband was still at work, happy hour was in full swing somewhere and I was home, alone, with the kids and the weight of this last year on my shoulders.  But, thanks to a little girl, a Jew, and the boy next door, my evening was salvaged and my heart ready to rise with the sun the next day.  My life forever changed by a book, “The Book Thief.” 

It was 1939, Nazi Germany, when a little man with big words and a bad moustache had a horrible idea.  A quirky dark narrator, “Death”, was busy collecting the souls of the dead while a heroic little girl, Liesel, stole books to help her get through a horrendous time in her life.  The characters captivated me as I curled up on the couch with a box of tissues, sipping tea and tears.  Not only did Liesel steal books, she stole my heart as well.  I was absorbed, like a Brawny paper towel sopping up spilled milk.  Slurp!

Why the book hype?  First of all, I will never look at life and “Death” the same way.  Second, it hasn’t been since Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Owen Meany in “A Prayer for Owen Meany” that a character with such a pure spirit has spoken to me like Liesel and her foster pa, Hans Huberman.  Third, it has inspired me to start where I left off a few years ago and attempt to finish reading the top 100 classic books of all time.  Why, because I finally can!

There was a time in my life when a good book, a classic like Anna Karenina, Lolita and Ulysses was as delicious and enticing to me as a piece of chocolate.  I used to devour the classics, one after another, like a box of thin mint girl scout cookies.    

I hit a roadblock a few years ago.  I could not concentrate long enough to get through one chapter.  I was distracted, unfocused and scattered.  Then, I was diagnosed with cancer.  Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov got put into boxes, stored away in my garage, left to a time before mid-life crisis, job loss, and chemo.  James Hollis, Wayne Dyer, Michio Kushi and Kris Carr took over filling the empty spaces on my bookshelves once adorned by classics as I worked to get my life back, re-focus and kick some cancer ass.

Today I unquestionably feel more focused.  It is not easy, a constant battle of wills, my own.  But I am closer and closer to getting my life back.  I definitely kicked cancer’s ass to kingdom come, now I need to kick distraction in the butt and unpack those boxes in the garage and let Tolstoy out.       

        

The “Book Thief” has given me just the fuel I need.  It has reignited my appetite and I am hungry! 

Seems my hunger for cookies came back with my hunger for a good book.  As I was reading last night, my kiddos baked homemade butterscotch oatmeal cookies.  I could not resist.  I must have eaten at least five cookies (I lost count), hot and gooey straight out of the oven.  They were delicious.

Honestly, I must admit, I was a bit worried that I would waste away on green leafy vegetables never enjoying a cookie hot out of the oven without thinking of it as feeding my cancer.  I also worried that I would starve, not just from lack of yummy gooey goodness, but from never being able to finish a good piece of fiction again, always distracted and unfocused. 

All that worry for naught!  I know better not to worry but I just can’t help myself sometimes.  I found this quote by Glenn Turner.  I think he sums it up well. 

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere. 

Ain’t that the truth?  I learned this lesson in more ways than one this weekend.  Not only is my hunger back.  My period is back!  After 9 months of chemo induced menopause, 9 months of wondering, is this it, menopause at age 45.  I got my answer.  I have never been more excited to go to the store and buy a box of tampons.  My body and mind seem to be screaming out, loud and clear, “No, not yet girl.  Do not throw in the towel.  You are still young, vibrant and tough.  Your appetite and enthusiasm for cookies, books and life is as strong as ever.  You have many periods ahead of you!”    

Bring it, I say, the cramps, the pimples, the sugar cravings, and the hormonal angst.  And move over James Hollis.  It’s time to unpack those boxes.  There is enough room for all of you on my bookshelves.  And while I am at it, show me the cookies! 

Welcome back Aunt Flow!  Welcome back Leo Tolstoy and James Joyce!  Welcome back butterscotch oatmeal cookies.  Welcome back girl!

My Thanksgiving “Thankfuls”

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

“… and so we are grateful for ALL experiences in our lives, because they have come to teach us.”  …Mastin Kipp, The Daily Love

Every Thanksgiving, our family begins each meal with “thankfuls”.  Before we dig into the turkey, mashed potatoes and my favorite, the stuffing, each of us takes a turn to share something we are thankful for. 

Dinner will be cold if I share all my “thankfuls” before mealtime today, so I decided to share it with all of you in my blog.  Something my kids will truly be grateful for.

To begin, I am done with my cancer treatments.  Done, finito, fin!

It was exactly one year ago this week that I found a lump in my breast, had a biopsy and received the dreaded news that I had cancer, one year, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 5 surgeries, 5 chemo treatments, and 23 doses of herceptin ago.    

But today, on this Thanksgiving Day in 2011, the dog days are over.  No more treatments, no more tears, no more sleepless nights, no more daunting decisions, no more nausea, no more bald head, no more “it opens from the front”, no more cancer.

I may be done with the treatments, and the cancer is gone, but it has left its mark on me forever, the scars a permanent tattoo on my heart.  As Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congresswoman and breast cancer survivor shares, “Breast cancer is not just a disease that strikes at women. It strikes at the very heart of who we are as women.”

As a woman, I am changed forever.  Something has shifted in my inner most core; a continental drift, convergent and divergent activity, leading to gradual expansion, transforming my boundaries.  It’s the plate tectonic theory, internalized and personalized in the deepest recesses of my soul.  I would equate this movement to a form of enlightenment, a spiritual shift in clarity of my perception of myself, my life and my place in the universe.  The Zen Buddhists refer to this shift as Satori, “a sudden inexpressible feeling of inner understanding similar to an epiphany.”  I can’t claim to be fully enlightened, that belongs to the masters like Buddha and Jesus.  But, I can say that my experience with cancer has given me a glimpse into this spiritual world and it is beautiful.

 

I am not the only one that has been changed forever by breast cancer.  Melissa Bank, author and breast cancer survivor says about her experience, “During chemo, you’re more tired than you’ve ever been.  It’s like a cloud passing over the sun, and suddenly you’re out. You don’t know how you’ll answer the door when your groceries are delivered. But you also find that you’re stronger than you’ve ever been. You’re clear. Your mortality is at optimal distance, not up so close that it obscures everything else, but close enough to give you depth perception. Previously, it has taken you weeks, months, or years to discover the meaning of an experience. Now it’s instantaneous.”

That is Satori!  And I am so grateful for the experience.    

To sum it all up, I need to put the turkey in the oven if we are to eat before midnight:  If something profound didn’t actually happen, it sure feels like it did.  This crazy confluence of events this past year, work, play, and cancer has brought me to my knees.  Not in defeat, but in triumph.  And, I am grateful.   

My Thanksgiving “Thankfuls” this year:

I am thankful to be alive.  I am thankful for the roof over my head, although it leaks.  I’m grateful for the food on my table albeit a bit bland for Casey’s pallet.  I’m thankful that I am surrounded by people that I love and love me.  I am grateful for all of you.  I am grateful for breast cancer.

Diagnosis by Casey Brown

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Casey with his band "Mother Function"

It wasn’t long ago (almost a year now) that my life made a drastic change. It wasn’t because of something I did; rather, it was something that happened. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She dropped the news rather well, informing the immediate family at a sit down. My mom, laughing as she told the story, about how suddenly the nurse’s face turned from that of business as usual to an overzealous smile, “How are you today Deanne?  Please sit down.  Are you comfortable?  Can I get you anything?”  Of course, the nurse was trying to pretend everything was ok, smiling to comfort my mom I suppose.  My mom said at that moment, she knew.  Anyhow, it wasn’t the news that hit me hard; we had been prepared for it upon discovery of the lump. It was how my brother and I reacted.

How is one supposed to take the news of your mother’s cancer? He and I went about our dinner, listened, and didn’t say much. We didn’t pretend that we didn’t hear it, we just didn’t respond to the news in a way some people would (OMG, gasp, tears, you know). I definitely know that I didn’t freak out in any way.  I can’t speak for my brother.  I wouldn’t know how he took it.  He certainly did not betray any feelings that he may have had.

But what about me and my reaction?  Why didn’t I find myself laden with fear?  Is that normal? Am I just a sociopath of modern society?  Maybe I’m just greatly desensitized with the rest of my peers.  Considering the way we are raised today; a generation raised on TV, movies, video games, etc… Could that have an effect on my reaction to the news?

It is now that I am finally processing all of this.  One year later.  The idea that desensitization is the cause of my near indifferent reaction is hard for me to take.  I can be a sensitive person, I think… but after hearing the news of my mother’s cancer, life continued on as before, with the exception of a change to even healthier foods, which in my personal opinion are rather bland. Thank god for fast food.

My mother’s cancer definitely affected the family in many ways. Money was tight and the world was collapsing around our shoulders.  Though, I continued to act the same way in my house.  I kept a same smile on my face, like everything was fine.  Hell, life was actually not so bad for me at the time.  I was doing well in school, chilling out with friends on a regular basis, and going to the beach.  Not often did my mind cross the fact that my mom was fighting a battle with cancer, except the occasional, “your mother had chemo today, she can’t drive you anywhere” which was fine, I understood, I understand.  I could stay home and play video games anyway.

My mom bought me an “I love boobies” bracelet, which I haven’t removed since. That was the one way I would express the entire ordeal, through the shaved head, chemo, herceptin, etc… A symbol to bright the fade that is my reaction to what was my mother’s cancer. That’s quite the mouthful.

Back to my question, why do I act that way?  I actually see the bigger picture.  It’s broader to me now than just a single event in life.  Nothing has happened to me that caused me to not worry about things.  For instance, at the moment I write this I’m putting off my math homework and I should probably be studying for a world history exam. But again, I don’t worry about my grade in math; I could skip homework for a week, even pretend the week never happened. Though that may seem too small an example compared to breast cancer, it is a look at the way I do things.  I can’t say it’s “looking the other way” because I’m quite aware of the consequences if I don’t do my math homework for a week.  I just am indifferent to the consequences of those actions.  Much like the way I reacted to the breast cancer ordeal.  It’s another bump in the road of life, another branch on a tree, branches which can fall or be changed and twisted, but there’s still the trunk holding it up.  So, math might not be my thing, a twisted branch protruding from the trunk, but there’s plenty of other room to grow instead of numbers.

My reaction to my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and the way I acted this year may be based on the fact that I live life to its fullest no matter what small road bump (or a cancerous lump, for that matter) rises in my way.  Maybe it’s indifference and insensitivity.  I don’t know.   It’s just a reaction, a natural process, even a chemical process to look at it scientifically.   So, take my reaction to my mother’s breast cancer, it wasn’t that I wasn’t afraid for her, or for my family’s way of life.  It’s that I knew life goes on, stuff happens you can’t control.  Roll with the punches and see what happens.

Casey being Casey

 

I am Durwood

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

 

In Loving Memory Andrew Ferrell 1974-2011

I had a bit of an existential crisis this past week.  My very foundation was shook with the death of a friend, Andrew Ferrell.  Drew, one of my biggest cheerleaders (without the skirt), was diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer about the same time I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  He lost his battle.

Or did he?  As Lance Armstrong said about Steve Jobs recently, “Steve, like every football coach who ever lived, didn’t lose his battle, he just ran out of time.”

We all run out of time at one point or another.  That is life.

And, death.

But, can we defy the fates?  I admit I have been trying.  I guess I watched too many Bewitched episodes growing up.  I always wanted to be Samantha, a beautiful immortal witch that could clean her house, jet off to Paris and walk thru doors with a twitch of her nose.  Who would want to be Darrin, or Durwood as his mother in-law called him, a mere measly mortal who has to use the door knob to get thru doors?

I came face to face with my own mortality this week with Drew’s death and I realized that I am scared shitless.  I am desperately trying to control my circumstances and somehow trick the fates.  I guzzle 32 ounces of green juice daily, work out at the gym, partake in dry rubs and daikon leaf baths, eat whole grains and huge organic salads and take my Omega 3’s and Vitamin D, so my cancer will not come back.  It is a full time job and it is exhausting!

And to top it off, I am worried that I am so busy juicing, I am forgetting to live life fully.    

Just the other night Casey’s band, “Mother Function” performed at a huge “Not Quinceanera Party”.  It was a meeting of Mexican Catholics and Irish Catholics. So you can imagine Guinness and Tequila flowing generously.  There was a group of 40 something year olds in the kitchen doing tequila shots.  Typically, I would be the first one to partake.  Not this time.  There are studies that show a connection between alcohol and breast cancer. 

Mother Function Rocking Out

Why do I do this day after day?  Why do I drink gallons of green stuff, spend exorbitant amounts of mula on supplements and believe alcohol is Satan? 

So I don’t die.  Fear of death does this to a person.

A problem arises however when the fear of death keeps you from living.  Like Adi Da Samraj says in his book, “Easy Death”, “You will live in either one of two ways. One is the usual round of obsession, fear, and seeking — in which the egoic self is the actor and the meaning of the drama. The other is the way of unlimited intelligence, love, freedom, spontaneity, and infinite happiness.”

Shakespeare understood this dilemma as well in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” 

The answer to this question is easy but walking the talk is a bit more difficult. 

But, no matter how difficult, I cannot live my life in fear.  The constant job of juicing, “because if I don’t I may die”, is a very heavy burden to live with.    

So, it is time for me to let go of fear, relinquish control and start living again.  Instead of juicing, because if I don’t I may die, I will juice because it makes me feel good.  Instead of running every day because it is proven to increase our life span, I will exercise because it is my happy drug.  I will do dry rubs because it makes my skin soft.  I will take my vitamin D because I am low in vitamin D.  I will take Daikon leaf baths because………well maybe this one can go.  And, I will limit tequila shots because it makes me feel like shit the next day.  Key word here, limit. 

Letting go, having some fun and enjoying life is just as important as my green goddess juice.  Actually, I am coming to the conclusion that it is more important.  As Shelby, Julia Roberts’ character in Steel Magnolias said, “I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”

Drew died way too young but I am certain he had thirty minutes of wonderful. 

I will miss Drew’s inspirational words, like “You rawk Deanne” as I am getting ready for a second reconstruction surgery scheduled for this Tuesday.   But, I know in my heart he will be cheering me on from above!  Maybe even in a cute little skirt.  I bet you can wear anything you want up there.

As for my own mortality, I am working on accepting this fact.  Whether I like it or not, I am Durwood,  along with the other 7 billion people on this planet, a mere mortal, relying on my own wits, family and friends to help me get through doors.    

So, to be or not to be, I choose to “be” god dam it!

Me Choosing to Be